Preventing infant deaths in developing countries
Press release issued: 7 April 2003
Hundreds of thousands of infant lives could be saved every year when the research findings from many teams, including one from the University of Bristol, are used to prevent infant deaths from diarrhoea in developing countries.
One of the main causes of dehydration and death is the bacteria E. coli, and the way it attacks its victims and alters their body functions to make copies of itself has now been identified by medical scientists. This offers opportunities to design vaccines or drugs to save lives by preventing the disease or speeding up recovery.
Dr Brendan Kenny of the University's Department of Pathology and Microbiology said: "We played a leading role in the discovery that the major culprit which causes diarrhoea, a non-invasive bacteria called enteropathogenic E. coli, injects proteins into the cells of the children it attacks.
"One of these, Tir, is essential to cause the disease, and works by first acting as an anchor for the bacteria and then to alter the cell's activity. A second protein, Map, works with Tir to change cells activity and also attacks the cell's powerhouse."
The scientists are working to identify the way these and other proteins act together to overwhelm the child's cells. The cells, once changed, then allow the bacteria to survive, breed and pass on to infect other children.
Dr Kenny added: "Our work demonstrates that the bacteria can control these proteins from outside the cells, like sending in an infiltration force to weaken the enemy before the main army attacks. Once we know how the whole system works we will be able to identify specific targets for drug designers."
Dr Kenny's paper 'Co-ordinate subversion of host cellular processes by enteropathogenic E.coli' was delivered in the Main Symposium of the 152nd Meeting of the Society for General Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh today [Monday 7 April 2003].
The Society for General Microbiology is the largest microbiology society in Europe, and has over 5,000 members world-wide. The Society provides a common meeting ground for scientists working in research and in fields with applications in microbiology including medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmaceuticals, industry, agriculture, food, the environment and education.